Café au Lait vs Latte: What’s the Difference?

Last Updated: by: Amanda T

caffe au lait vs latte

There are so many ways to drink coffee. Sometimes we know just what we want, and sometimes it’s hard to choose. This choice is made even harder when you don’t know what every drink on the menu is, let alone how it’s made. An example of one of these drinks is a cafe au lait. It originated in France and is more popular in Europe than in the U.S., where lattes seem to be a popular choice. So what exactly is a cafe au lait, and what makes it different from a latte?


A latte starts with fresh-brewed espresso shots, and then steamed milk is added, often with a light layer of foam on the top. This drink became popular because it offers the bold espresso flavor people want, but with a creamy texture from the milk. People like to customize their coffee, which is the reason lattes became even more popular. There are many flavors available to add to your latte for a personal touch.


Café au Lait

Cafe au lait translates to “coffee with milk” in French, and that is exactly what it is. To make this drink, you start with your choice of brewed coffee. This fills the bottom half of the cup, and then hot milk fills the rest. The milk in this drink is always hot, or else it becomes a different drink called “white coffee.”

American Cafe au Lait

There is also an American version of the cafe au lait that originated in the most French part of the U.S., New Orleans. This version is unique for a few reasons, the main one being the addition of chicory in the coffee. Chicory is a plant that has a very woody taste. This gives the drink an extremely distinct flavor. The milk in this version isn’t steamed, but scalded, or heated right up to the boiling point. The last reason this version is different is that it’s usually served with a sweet treat called a beignet. This is a ball of fried dough coated with powdered sugar. It’s like a French version of a donut.

Highlighting the Differences

  • Cafe au lait and lattes are different from each other, and for a few reasons. They all come back to the general makeup of the drink.
  • A latte is made with bold espresso, while a cafe au lait has coffee.
  • Lattes have more milk and a little bit of foam, which a cafe au lait doesn’t have.
  • Lattes come in a wide range of flavors, while a cafe au lait is traditionally coffee and milk unless it’s the American version with chicory.

Now you know what a latte and a cafe au lait are and how they differ. Depending on which one sounds the best to you after learning the options they offer, you can try a new latte flavor like toffee, or head down to New Orleans for an American cafe au lait. Enjoy your new coffee discoveries!

RELATED READING: What’s the difference between frothed and steamed milk?